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Tom Tom Founders Festival to highlight businesswomen
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Credit: Courtesy Tom Tom Founders Festival
Valerie Morini, left, and Dar Malecki, right, will emcee the Tom Tom Founders Summit April 17.
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Aaron Richardson | Saturday, April 02, 2016 at 3:26 p.m.

When Dahlia Lithwick graduated from Stanford Law School in a class that was half women, she looked forward to a future where men and women would be on equal footing in the workplace.

More than 20 years later, she is still waiting.

“I graduated from law school in 1993, and if you had told me that 20 years later women still didn’t make partner at law firms, they still are not 50 percent on the bench, they still are not 50 percent the CEOs of corporations, I would have been shocked,” she said “We really thought … the work was done.”

But according to U.S. Census data, women still are paid 79 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts, and only 9 percent of women make $30,000 or more a year more than their husbands.

Those numbers have risen since 2000, federal statistics show, but the gap remains.

In an effort to narrow the divide between men and women in the workplace, the Tom Tom Founders Festival this year has given each ticketholder for its April 15 Founders Summit a free ticket to give to a woman.

Tom Tom is calling the effort, a new addition to the festival, “Lean In.” Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate who covers the Supreme Court, is a keynote speaker at the Founders Summit.

The idea, said Celia Castleman, Tom Tom’s project manager, is not only to show young women and girls that opportunities exist in traditionally male-dominated industries, but also to display a unified workforce.

“One, I think it is important for women in our audience to have these trailblazers,” Castleman said. “And two, it’s important for the men in our audience to see the diversity and the importance of having more gender balance.”

For Dar Malecki — who left the finance industry after two decades to found MADabolic Inc., a fitness company based in Charlottesville and Charleston, South Carolina — Lean In is an opportunity to give women more role models.

“When I entered the workforce, there were no mentors,” Malecki said. “There were no females who I could look up to for help. I think we are creating such levels of mentorship.”

While local initiatives like Tom Tom seek to illuminate high-ranking businesswomen, federal data show the number of woman-owned businesses is growing. Between 2007 and 2012, figures from the Census Bureau show the number of female-owned businesses in the U.S. rising from 7.8 million to 9.9 million, or 26.9 percent.

In 2012, women-owned firms generated $1.4 trillion in receipts, a nearly 19-percent increase over 2007, census data show.

Those numbers show that things are changing, said Valerie Morini, who co-owns MADabolic with Malecki and works in finance for Wells Fargo, but traditional ideas about gender roles persist.

“My generation is definitely taking a stronger approach to women in business, but we are still seeing the residual effect of maybe being told, ‘Hey, it would be really sweet if you were a teacher or a nurse,’ as opposed to, ‘you should get into finance, or corporate America or own a business,’” she said.

Lithwick said small advances are a start but are not enough.

In covering the Supreme Court, Lithwick said she noticed a change when a third woman was added to the bench.

“My day-to-day, in-the-trenches thing is that the minute you have three women on the court, they all sort of exploded into fully bold, brave, able to say anything, no longer modulating everything, just fully present,” she said. “There is something about three where you really systemically see women start to fully participate.”

The Founders Summit runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 15 at the Paramount Theater. Lithwick, Malecki and Morini will be joined by more than 30 speakers and panelists at the event.

Tickets are $99 through April 13 ($129 at the door) and can be purchased at tomtomfest.com.

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